When planning course offerings and master schedules, who should be the primary focus?
Those of us in and around education should instinctively say students. Unfortunately, many other priorities get pushed to the forefront, and too often, adults’ needs and preferences steer course offerings and master schedules.
Working in partnership with network, campus and classroom leaders at IDEA Public Schools for the past several years, it is easy to see that their focus is on preparing students for success to and through college. While some systems take a traditional approach to course offerings, IDEA is committed to students’ access to rigorous, college-level coursework. Through IDEA’s AP for All Initiative, students take at least 11 AP courses as part of the high school curriculum.
While not all schools have the capacity to offer a full suite of AP courses, they can still prioritize the needs and desires of the students. Rather than providing a list of courses the school will offer – often the courses that have traditionally been taught or the teachers’ content knowledge or credentials—they can survey students to determine which courses they want to take and build the course offerings list based on the students’ interests.
Although course offerings are important, it is equally important to identify when master schedules are limiting students’ access. For example, if all advanced courses are offered in the same block, students can select only one. Similarly, offering advanced courses in the same block as popular electives (athletics, band or culinary arts) limits students’ access.
While seeing the challenges can be easy, it is more difficult to change course. A key step, however, is to engage stakeholders early and intentionally focus on who you serve. Now is an ideal time to deliberately consider the courses you’re offering and whether the way they are scheduled revolves around your highest priority—students.
Tammi Stewart is a senior program manager for the National Math and Science Initiative, a sponsor of the National Charter Schools Conference 2018. She previously taught a variety of English courses, including AP English Language and Composition, in traditional public schools in Florida and Texas.
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